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North Carolina Academy of Science (1982)

Intellectual freedom and the quality of science education in North Carolina, and the competency of future generations of North Carolinians to make wise decisions concerning science and technology, are being threatened by groups pressuring educators to present creationism as a scientifically viable alternative to evolution. Textbooks are being censored; authors, science teachers, and school boards are being intimidated; and science curricula are being modified in ways that accommodate nonscientific points of view and reject principles accepted by the scientific community.

The North Carolina Academy of Science strongly opposes any measure requiring or coercing public school educators either to include creationism in science curricula or to limit the inclusion of evolution in those same curricula. Principles and concepts of biological evolution are basic to the understanding of science. Students who are not taught these principles, or who hear creationism presented as a scientific alternative to them, will not be receiving an education based on modern scientific knowledge. Their ignorance about evolution will seriously undermine their understanding of the world and the natural laws governing it, and their introduction to creationism as "scientific" will give them false ideas about scientific methods and criteria. Yet we must give students who will face the problems of the 20th and 21st centuries the best possible education.

Creationists claim that biological evolution is a religious tenet; in fact it is one of the cornerstones of modern science. More than 50 years ago the North Carolina Academy of Science adopted a resolution declaring evolution an established law of nature, and since then extensive data have accumulated which further reinforce the confidence of the scientific community in the validity of evolution and help clarify the mechanisms through which evolution operates. Scientists agree that organisms now living on the earth are derived from preexisting organisms which, over long periods of time measured in billions of years, have changed from the simplest ancestors to the diverse and complex biota now in existence. Scientists further agree that there was a time when the earth was devoid of life, and that life developed through natural processes. The evidences supporting these conclusions are extensive, are drawn from many disciplines of science, and are mutually corroborative. They have withstood tests and searching criticism as rigorous as that to which any scientific principles have been subjected. No scientific hypothesis suggested as an alternative to evolution has succeeded in explaining relevant natural phenomena. Moreover, insights provided by evolutionary principles have been the basis for progress in the biological and biomedical sciences which has benefited mankind in many ways.

There are important questions remaining, of course, about how evolution operates. We have made progress in this area during the past century, but debates about evolutionary mechanisms still go on today. Some creationists, in an attempt to discredit the principles of evolution, have emphasized these disagreements between scientists about how evolution takes place. But such discussion is a normal part of how science works; fruitful controversy plays an important role in stimulating scientific investigation and furthering scientific knowledge. Debate about evolutionary mechanisms in no way undermines scientists' confidence in the reality of evolution, any more than disagreement about the behavior of subatomic particles would lead scientists to doubt the existence of atoms.

Creationists contend that creationism is a scientific theory and therefore a valid alternative to evolution. But to quote from a statement by the National Science Teachers Association, "The true test of a theory in science is threefold: (1) its ability to explain what has been observed; (2) its ability to predict what has not been observed; and (3) its ability to be tested by further experimentation and to be modified by the acquisition of new data." Viewed in the context of these criteria, creationism is not scientific. There should be opportunity for full discussion of such nonscientific ideas in appropriate forums, but they have no place in science classes. The content of science courses must meet scientific criteria; to require equal time for discussion of nonscience topics would destroy the integrity of science education.

Therefore, we the members of the North Carolina Academy of Science declare the following to be the position of the Academy on this issue:

The North Carolina Academy of Science strongly opposes the mandated inclusion of creationist views of origins in public school science classes. Furthermore, the Academy is strongly opposed to any mandated exclusion of the principles of evolution from public school instruction. We totally reject the concept, put forth by certain pressure groups, that evolution is itself a tenet of religion. And we assert that evolution is the only strictly scientific explanation for changes in the biota of the earth over time and for the existence and diversity of living organisms.